Images of Book of Debts, Brixton finale

Images from the recital and burning of The Book of Debts IX, Brixton on Sunday 29th March at St Mathews Peace Garden, Brixton Hill, amid stormy weather !  It was a very powerful ending to an intense residency for the book – thankyou to all those who contributed, recited, and supported us in Brixton. More to come on what happened soon. Read below Barby Asante’s moving debt of gratitude to the people of Brixton which she recited at the event.

‘Brixton is now a desired place to live. In fact people are so desperate to buy into Brixton that you will sometimes get notes through your letterbox from people looking for properties and it seems that the powers that be/ the local authority are happy to sell it off to fill the pot with the pennies that will be given in return for allowing property developers and big business to own pieces of Brixton –  displacing the people who stayed here when it was consider an off limits dangerous part of London.

So this debt is owed to the music hall players and entertainers, the market traders, the Caribbean and Irish people who were not welcomed to live in other parts of London & those Caribbean people who bought the run down properties through pardoner systems of saving and worked hard to make those properties homes,  the working class men and women who grew up playing on the bomb sites that are now the sites of contested social housing. To the squatters and housing activists especially Olive Morris. To the Brixton Faeries, to those who took to the streets because they were fed up of racism and police brutality.  To the kids condemned as rubbish because they grew up in Brixton & the single mums who brought some of those kids up.

The artists, musicians, writers, nightclub owners, London transport workers, teachers, shop keepers, social workers, keepers of local history,  street preachers and every day Brixton Characters, the different groups of people from around the world attracted to the place because it’s welcoming to others/ to outsiders and you can shop for food in a market instead of a bland supermarket.

There’s so much more to say so many people that could be listed or credited that make up a really brilliant and truly diverse community, that has its conflicts and comings together.  That recognises and appreciates difference.  These are people who stuck with it and stood by their neighbourhood and it’s people when others condemned and spoke negatively about Brixton. They were/ are resilient and fiercely defend the social and cultural fabric of their community.  Many of these people have had to – or if things continue in the direction that it’s going-  will have to move on. Pushed out and priced out as profit is put before people!’

Disrupting the Story of Debt and The Land : Brixton

‘The world as we know it is built on a story. To be a change agent is, first, to disrupt the existing Story of the World, and second, to tell a new Story of the World so that those entering the space between stories have a place to go. Often, these two functions merge into one, since the actions we take that are part of the telling of a new story are also disruptive to the old’

Charles Eisenstein: ‘The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know is Possible’

The Book of Debts is currently touring around Brixton, in the loving arms of  Barby Asante, a fellow artist, Brixtonian and producer of this chapter of the project. It has been a long time coming and now I see it has landed at the right moment. At least, that is what I hope, if it gets used by the various communities who encounter it in the way I dream it will -as a space for both rigorous collective and  personal questioning of the power debt holds –  or can hold – both over communities and over the human psyche.

As many people know, the Brixton  Arches/ Market among other places  is the subject of a massive campaign to resist the wholesale ‘regeneration’  phenomenon which is characterising the gentrification/commodification of so much of the heart and soul of communities across the country. It is close to home for me both because I once lived in Brixton and know that market to be the lifeblood of the body of this unique community – and also because at the moment in Lewes where I now live, we have issues with a development which proposes (and is at planning submission stage) to raze to the ground another place at the heart of our creative community – the Phoenix cultural quarter  (where I have a studio space and hundreds of others work on a daily basis, affordably, for now). This to make way for not-so-affordable housing, supermarkets, car park and chain stores. The Phoenix Industrial Estate, like the Arches, is one of the most vibrant parts of our town  and if it goes a whole section of the population, will go with it. Lewes has a campaign too to propose an alternative plan and it is called Lewes Phoenix Rising.

So what has this got to do with debt?  In  the Lord’s Prayer there is an interesting mix up over time /translation between Forgive us our sins / Forgive us our debts / Forgive us our trespasses, connecting debt/sin to property /power and I keep thinking of Rowan Williams talking at the Life Before Debt conference last year where he quoted Leviticus (which has a lot of frankly sound stuff to say about debt, profiting from others misery etc) and at one point, he talked about  the breaking of moral boundaries in relation to unscrupulous lending, social inequality – but also inappropriate development projects:

‘The land does not belong to anyone. The land is on loan to you by God – you are already indebted to it. You trade its use not the land itself

‘Ownership is never absolute in a world where you are dependent on what you haven’t made’

It is not only a case with this project of questioning who owes what to whom, but who owns what and how is this related to the idea of a common good ? I’d love to see some comment on this from both those who are proposing to develop and those who are resisting development – both who would consider themselves ‘custodians’ of this not-so-common land.  There is a lot more talk about the ethics of lending these days, and legislation to slowly counteract it – but a mainstream debate about the ethics of land development and what this actually means gets very little exposure, because so much is at stake – both on the level of peoples livelihoods on one side, and the level of profit and ‘accountabilty’ on the other. Let us see what lands in the Book!

I’m reminded once again at the moment that the key to making relational art – responsive to place and community – is to be open to fail, to put oneself  and ones work publicly ‘at risk’ and to embrace the uncertainty that a work based on sometimes random encounters, mixed agendas and evolving relationships can necessitate. This can induce great fear as well as great excitement (apparently they are hormonally identical). Only experience mitigates the intensity of the fear, or maybe a kind of faith in the power of the unknown as well as the power of an idea to carry itself  beyond what might initially be imagined.

This week what happens is very much  beyond my control, we can only create a context for the request to the public to contribute, we cannot make them!  Having been part of last weekends Readers and Writers workshop at 198 (also run with Susan Steed from the Brixton Pound and brilliant Malikas Poetry Kitchen),  I once again witnessed the magical process of provoking new collective thought together in a group by simply bringing  a different, broader, reading to the idea of debt through quoting the writers who have inspired me along the way and the experiences The Book has brought me, as well as reflections on alternatives at work from Susan.

The Book of Debts itself is a neutral space, an imaginary space, a series of blank pages – open to debtors, creditors alike and to any form of debt – but I find it increasingly difficult, as an individual, not to make judgments or adopt a position re the system, this house of cards, we are supposed to be trying to exist within and how it is exacerbating this gap at high speed – an the impact that the monetisation of absolutely everything is having on communities and our internal sense of that means on a collective, psychological level.

However am so heartened to see the level of community activism in Brixton (and Lewes) to address these issues – on all sides –  and to keep in hand what has been earned and built up over decades, to preserve social and cultural capital above the financial. If any community can disrupt existing Stories around the process of change and rewrite them to make them work for the common good, then both Brixton and Lewes (who both have their own Pound) –  can.

It feel like this is a crux point of the project, and our desire to have to Book travel properly around a community in a process of change , so with a lot to say – is being fulfilled. One of the Queen gatekeepers of the community is on the case –  Barby has managed to get the support of  198 CAL, Brixton Blog, Brixton Pound, Lambeth Events (for giving us use of the Peace Garden for the burning)  and all the venues who are hosting it this week – among them the Karibu Centre, Brixton Foodbank, (sadly not the Library -tho  Libraries normally like this project..). Circus, Lounge and the A+C Deli in the Arches community – where we will also be on Saturday with our stall on Brixton Street Market, taking in entries and offering up our ‘free public service’ as one contributor described it .

I’ll be landing in Brixton myself again this Saturday with a stall at the Market so come and see what’s been put into the Book and whether you would like to spill some of my ink on its pages before we burn it on Sunday.

And – you can add your own contribution online in your own space. Please join us this Sunday March 29th at 2pm at St Mathews Peace Garden (in front of the Brix), Brixton Hill for the recital and burning, followed by a small ‘wake’ afterwards…

Follow on twitter for ore detail re this weekend : @burningthebooks @barbyasante

 

Letter to the People of Brixton – Invitation to contribute to The Book of Debts (IX)

What do you think about when you think about debt? 

We may meet, or we may never meet. I am an artist, debtor and keeper of The Book of Debts, which – one Volume per location – is being filled with entries, recited aloud and burned in symbolic acts of imaginary debt relief, as it travels the UK. To date over 1000 people have contributed to this project. The Book of Debts (IX) is currently open online, and will be launched in person at 198 Contemporary Arts and Learning on March 12th 6.30pm – 9pm, where it will be for a week, then tour around Brixton until the finale on 29th.March.

I invite you to contribute to this Volume IX – whether you’re a borrower or lender, past or present. What is in your/our collective book of human accounts? Money, rights, time, love, attention? Shame, regret, anger, injustice, gratitude? Who owes what to whom? Do all debts have to be repaid? How do you repay a debt that is not financial? What would you have written off, call to account or want to draw attention to?

The project has been related to in different ways: as a provocation – an imaginary form of Jubilee (found in many Holy Books and the basis of debt cancellation activism) – or as a source of comfort and healing for past hurts, bordering on the therapeutic. Whatever you think it is, I offer it to you as a way of opening up what this poorly understood yet powerful construct can mean, a playful way of examining your beliefs, at a personal and societal level.

The debt entered can be owed by you – or to you. Or it may be owed to or by a third party. It may be financial, social, emotional, political, ecological or spiritual – or a combination of the above. All contributions are anonymous unless you choose to identify yourself – and you can contribute as many debts as you like. We are inviting up to 10 local people to co –recite The Book with me on Sunday 29th March before it is committed to the flames, followed by a celebratory wake!

 

To contribute to The Book of Debts, IX, contribute online here or write in The Book in Brixton until the afternoon, Sunday 29th March, when it will be recited and burned in Central Brixton, full details of where The Book can be found and the finale location will be out by the end of February.

Brixton, London

Burning The Books (trailer still)

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Book of Debts in Brixton  – schedule :

12th March 2015 6.30- 9pm

Launch of the Book of Debts with Q&A

12th-20th March Gallery Open Mon-Fri 11-5pm
Book Open for entries at 198 Contemporary Arts and Learning and online here

Sunday 15th March 2015 12-4pm: Readers and Writers Workshop- An introduction to readings on debt and alternative economies  with Brixton Pound and writing workshop lead by writers from Malika’s Kitchen.
20th March –27th March 2015: Book tour around Brixton, venues include Karibu Centre, Brixton FoodBank, A+C Deli,  Circus Brixton, The Lounge and other places.

28th March 2015 Stall on Brixton Station Market 10.30-4pm
29th March 2015 2pm – 3.30pm: Book Recital and Burning- St Matthews Peace Garden. Free

Burning the Books Brixton is produced by Barby Asante (Associate Curator at 198) and supported by Arts Council England, Lambeth Events, Brixton Pound, Brixton Blog.

The cost of conflict; trying to understand war and debt

Part of me, maybe because I am an artist  and debtor and have self judgements around both of these, feels unqualified to talk about things which are made of the hard, ‘patriarchal’ stuff of economics and  war combined.  This is I think is because I feel I don’t have the language or understanding of economics or international conflict to be credible, despite  having experienced and read quite a lot on the subject of debt and developed a recent installation inspired by ideas of conflict, Child’s Play, on display at  IWMN.

However, from reading and observing and sensing what is going on at the moment, talking to contributors, and the influx of messages and contributions to The Book of Debts in the wake of my interview with the Guardian this week on my own personal experience of debt, and because I have placed a Book of Debts in the Imperial War Museum a part of the Asia Triennial Manchester on the theme of conflict and compassion , I have a number of reflections/ questions which I feel compelled to make /pose .  Not making them would feel like a missed opportunity. And as an artist it is my role to ask questions, which I am sure may promote further questions back – at least I hope so.

I have been thinking and reading  about the relationship between debt and war, trying to get my head around it and this is what I learnt so far. It has often been said that banks – and nowadays corporate powers –  are  the driving force behind war and that war is the most efficient and profitable way of creating debt, fast. As we now know that banks are built on creating money from nothing (since the bank of England admitted it earlier this year, as David Graeber writes in this article ), i.e loans are created first and electronic currency to finance them second, this leaves them in the unique position of being able to create the means to create quick entry into conflicts that might not otherwise be possible. Which may explain why there are so many wars all going on concurrently in the middle of a global financial crisis?

Financing wars is VERY expensive (the US war in Iraq,  initial cost $1.7 trillion, will have cost around $6 trillion over the next four decades, counting the interest!) and the scope for continuing them has been regularly extended by borrowing. So wars have been a huge – and regular – way for banks to create the finance for monarchs and governments who want to try to expand their empires, colonies and spheres of enforced influence. This includes financing what often seem to be revolutions but turn out to be regime changes with devastating strings attached. There also the issue public bonds, but that is another story (which is so clothed in esoteric language I defy anyone not versed in business/economics to understand them, but then that is the idea….you can’t question what you can’t understand – hence the small print on loan agreements.. see the vocabularly used in this article)

War is also good for banks and corporate powers because a lot of material, equipment, buildings and infrastructure get destroyed in war. So countries go into massive debt to finance war, and then borrow a load more to rebuild what they just destroyed. Utterly surreal and devastating on a human level. But hey, great for business (ask George Bush).

The emergence of the big central banks has kept this age old tradition going. Specifically, the big banks or allied powers (ie the US to the Allies in WW1) loan money to governments and charge interest for the loans. With most loans there is a fixed term. And often , in consumer terms if a debt has not been paid within a certain time frame, i.e 6 years, it is written off. However, apparently war loans are perpetual, i.e there is no pay-by date and so we still have loans dating right back to the Crimean war, the Irish Potato Famine etc,

In the UK at the moment, in this time of ‘austerity’ (which, based on the fact that banks control the creation of money and money is made up by them rather than them being custodians of anything that actually exists in real time and space, is unnecessary and just creating massive and rapid inequality)  why does George Osborne apparently feels that we can now afford to pay our World War One loan off, the first payment in 67 years  of 218 m towards a 2bn debt ?

Burning The Books, Birmingham, 2014. Photo: Katja Ogrin

Burning The Books, Birmingham, 2014. Photo: Katja Ogrin

In many holy books, there was the idea of a Jubilee, a periodic writing –off of debts and freeing of slaves – every 7 years in the bible and every 50 years in the Torah. (one of my references for this project). This is the basis of campaigns to erase toxic and unjust debt by the Jubilee Debt Campaign, i.e  Argentina’s  current pursual by vulture funds (based on loans taken out by an previous regime to finance the junta), Pakistan’s crippling debt burden to the west which has resulted in the death of thousands of the poorest citizens,  would never be in a position to contemplate this kind of voluntary repayment. JDC are working on these issues, and a general Jubilee for Justice, which is being largely ignored by the political elites.

Why pay this war loan off now? Is this a PR move  to impress our US creditors to whom we owe a number of political favours ? Why are we repaying  debt incurred to finance a world war 100 years ago, prioritised over keeping the NHS healthy or meeting the basic needs of those who are falling into the cost of living gaps, barely affording to meet ends meet without going into massive debt themselves? Why hasn’t a jubilee been applied to this debt – or to all war debts , come to it?  Why are war loans ‘perpetual’ and not time-limited?? Who is profiting from the payback of this debt and  who is this debt really to? Why is it being packaged as being ‘value for money’ (apparently because there is a period of low interest at the moment,) and framed as a great opportunity ?

This kind of questioning is not only applicable to retrospective debt – whether war loans or other-  but also to our current global debt situation, Charles Eisenstein writes:

‘It is said that our children and grandchildren will be paying out these bailout and stimulus debts, but they could also simply be declared into non-existence. They are only as real as the story we agree on that contains them. Our grandchildren will pay them only if the story, the system of meanings that defines those debts still exist. ‘  (Sacred Economics, Charles Eisenstein)

This story, this system of meanings we are occupying at the moment, needs to and is being seriously questioned and will be transformed. There are plenty of thinkers /writers/activists/economists out there who have been doing this for a while and now this is becoming more visible. Among them I have met / noted  Brett Scott, Charles Eisenstein, Positive Money, New Economics Foundation, Ann Pettifor, (and all the speakers at the Jubilee Debt Campaign’s Life Before Debt Conference this Spring ).

Also , this Thursday 20th November, is the first time since 1844 that Parliament is debating the way that money is created  and although one wouldn’t expect the banks to hand over the power to control the way money is generated to a democratic body overnight,(here you go, we’ve had enough!)  it is a good sign that at least there is a high profile dialogue happening about it (lets hope it gets coverage..) , out of the alternative sphere of activism. I like that it is taking place on the same day we are burning the Book of Debts! And the same week as Restorative Justice Week, something I would like to have had a closer look at during this time, in terms of its relationship to the other theme of compassion, the antidote to conflict. Maybe that’s for the next project.

I am excited that I have 6 people reciting The Book of Debts VIII alongside me on Thursday and excited to say  that I will also be speaking about the project on Woman’s Hour, Radio 4 this Friday morning November 21st, when Book IX opens online .

 

Partially reposted from my AN blog ‘Child’s Play': Conflict and Compassion at Asia Triennial Manchester

 

 

 

 

The Book of Debts Image/Video Gallery 2011-14

Watch Burning The Books – selected clips on Vimeo here.

The Book of Debts VII at Urban Dialogues, with the Mixed-Up Chorus, 21.09.2014

Letter from the Artist: Invitation to contribute to The Book of Debts, VIII

Debt  – like love – is a source of human drama and can both make and break social, personal and political bonds. Many of the wars in human history have arisen from – or been manufactured out of – debtor/creditor conflicts or agreements, and yet this is often the hidden agenda, lurking beneath a moral or political stance.

Burning the Books was an idea for a project that I felt compelled to make once, and never thought I would repeat. Arising from personal experiences, it changed the course of my life and work. It began in 2011 in Liverpool and will end in May 2015.

            I create one Book of Debts per location, inviting the public to (anonymously) contribute entries – in person or online. These form the basis of a public recital of The Book, unique to each place, which is then ceremoniously burned. Entries range from unpaid corporate taxes, lost lives, social or political injustices, ecological damage, family feuds and missed opportunities – to numerous debts of gratitude for acts of generosity, kindness or courage.

    I invite you to contribute to The Book of Debts, VIII and to consider what is in your – or our – book of human accounts?  Money, rights, lives, time, love, attention?  Shame, regret, anger, injustice? Who owes what to whom? Do all debts have to be repaid?  How do you repay a debt that is not financial? The Book has been related to in several different ways: as a political provocation, as a form of Jubilee (the periodical forgiveness of debts found in Holy Books) and as a source of healing for past hurts, bordering on the therapeutic. Whatever you think it is, I offer it to you as a playful way of deepening your understanding of this often confusing yet powerful subject  – and the role it plays in both our consciences and communities. With increased understanding comes increased compassion, the antidote to conflict itself.

Alinah Azadeh, September 2014

To contribute to The Book of Debts,VIII, write in The Book at IWMN or contribute via this site  before November 20th when The Book will be recited and burned at 5.30pm outside the Museum, at the end of the ATM14 Symposium. You can also meet Alinah  in the museum with The Book of Debts on November 17/18th, 11.30 -12.30 and 2-4pm.  

Salford/ Manchester

 

Photo 23-09-2014 17 31 34

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Book of Debts  VIII opened on September 27th and is in residence as part of  Asia Triennial Manchester (ATM14) at Imperial War Museum North until Nov 20th, when it will be recited and burnt at 5.30pm outside the Museum at the end of the symposium ‘Conflict, Compassion, Resolution’. Open and free to the public, meet in the Main Exhibition Space.

Contribute to The Book anytime here until November 20th or visit the Museum.

Alinah will be at the Museum on November 17th/18th  11.30-12.30 and 2-4pm preparing, editing and taking any contributions to The Book in the lead up to the finale.

 

 

Meeting beyond belief

Beyond our ideas of right-doing and wrong-doing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there. When the soul lies down in that grass, the world is too full to talk about. Ideas, language, even the phrase ‘each other’ doesn’t make sense any more.” Rumi

Book of Debts V recital/burning, Brighton .Daniel Yanez Gonzalez Courtesy Fabrica. 22.5.2014

Book of Debts V recital/burning, Brighton .Daniel Yanez Gonzalez Courtesy Fabrica. 22.5.2014

The Book of Debts is finding a natural resting place in its current home at Navigations, a group show at the magical Red Gallery exploring the nature of belief and part of the Urban Dialogues Arts programme supported by the 3FF – the Three Faith Forum. It sits alongside some very powerful works, curated by fellow artist Barby Asante (who invited me to be part of the show).

I wasn’t familiar with 3FF but it was always my desire (since it has been both at Birmingham Cathedral and part of the Jubilee Debt Campaigns conference ‘Life Before Debt’ ) to place the book at some point in an interfaith context and so it feels like wish fulfilled (or will be once we have burnt the book this coming Sunday). At the opening night festival I felt the energy and power, alongside 450 others, that creativity and dialogue across borders of belief and medium can create and I am expecting the same this weekend.

Many of the ideas for this project were rooted in questioning the impact of beliefs around debt – both positive and negative – for example, those that are synonymous with sin, wrongdoing, judgment and also confession absolution, redemption.  Not to mention the core element of The Book, full of powerful words containing both broken and dishonoured contracts, praise for generosities bestowed, acts of social justice and often soul-searching question on the messy and magical threads of human relationships that bind us to one another. Then, it synthesized into its current form as I found my imaginary role in all this, reading Margaret Atwood’s enriching book Payback: Debt and the Shadow Side of Wealth, where she charts many literary and mythological narratives to explore the multifaceted nature of debt and how it seems to rule us all from birth to death and beyond.

She introduces Thoth and Anubis in the Egyptian underworld, measuring and weighing, and acting as supernatural scribes; Archangel Michael weighing souls; Angel Gabriel, recording and keeping God’s ledger up to date. And then all those notions of last judgments, the scales of justice, sacred laws regarding fairness and charity (and debt itself, in Leviticus), laws regarding the payment of interest in Islam, and my favorite  – the notion of the Jubilee, the periodical forgiveness of all debts and freeing of slaves that is in the Bible, Torah and in some form in other holy books. (Note: this has somehow been phased out centuries ago, though has its remnants in the 6 years duration of a credit record)

I have noticed how many of the debts coming into the current book are emotional /moral ones. Last week I was at the funeral of an old friend. I felt sadness at her loss, but greater sadness in the knowledge that there were a number of mutual friends with whom she had unresolved conflicts, as if something remained unfinished. Despite the English folk saying ‘Death pays all debts’, (though not true in contemporary financial culture where we are bound to pay our deceased relatives’ debts – or in the case of Argentina currently being pursued in court over debts incurred by previous authorities to fund the inhuman actions of the junta.), I still ask my self, what happens to these loose ends? If you’re Buddhist there is karma and in many theological stories these loose ends come back to haunt you in the next life.

How we negotiate our own set of human accounts, or own loose ends spoken or unspoken, may be dependent on our relationship to our own moral compass as either external – a third part god or deity, or internal – the god/divinity/deep knowledge in us that is more characteristic of the mystic and secular traditions. And on whether we believe in the power of an intermediary (Jesus, a priesthood etc.) or have simply our own selves to face in dealing with what remains unpaid, forgiven, unbalanced or unaccounted for.

Debt  – like many grand themes – is a morally and emotionally dense subject with no clear cut answers and the only real elements that can penetrate the confronting moral confusion that often arise from reflecting or voicing it is the transformative power of sharing and making things public in appropriate contexts, of which are can be one.  capacity that human beings to work together to address injustices in a human but rigorous way (truth and reconciliation hearings, jubilee debt campaign etc.) and to empathies, to feel compassion for suffering and to work on the idea that is at the core of a lot of social, political and cross-cultural initiatives right now, that one persons suffering is on some level, whether visible or not, everyone’s suffering, that every human action, interaction and response matters in an interdependent world.

So, as I work with this subject which can be so very divisive, evoking sometimes suspicious, angry or painful responses (as well as wide-eyed recognition and relief in being able to articulate on the subject),  I get more and more inspired at the finales when either someone’s understanding of the subject, and compassion for themselves or another has visibly increased, in the alchemical process which is a communal ritual, which acts as the core of the final performance.

In Roman Krznarics recent book Empathy: a Handbook for Revolution  (which I highly recommend) he talks about the role that culture has long had to play in the evolution of an empathic consciousness, beginning with literature, quoting George Eliot thus:

‘Art is the nearest thing to life; it is a mode of amplifying experience and extending our contact with our fellow –men beyond the bounds of our personal lot’

To read or contribute to the current Book of Debts, you can go online or visit the Red Gallery by Sunday afternoon. Volume VII will be recited and burned as the finale to the Navigations show at 5pm this Sunday September 21st, in collaboration with the Mixed- up Chorus. Events start from 1pm, Free. Info here.